Alumni, Community, People

Virtual tutoring helps student channel shark passion

August 31, 2020

Thirteen-year old Gabriella (Gabby) Seewald has a passion for sharks. In fact, she was turning her passion into a grade 8 project for the 2020-21 school year. However, Seewald wasn’t going to present her project next year because she was moving directly into grade 9 as part of the Community Pathways Program at Catholic Central High School (CCH). To avoid the disappointment of not presenting her project, the family used the virtual tutoring service from the Faculty of Education, allowing her to complete her project before she entered secondary school.  

In addition, Seewald’s parents thought virtual tutoring would help because they noticed their daughter, who has Down syndrome, was experiencing an academic and social gap with her classmates.

“When the pandemic hit, I thought it would be great if we could have a tutor work with her virtually to channel all of her ‘shark’ energy,” said Quevillon.

Seewald teamed up with Annie Tran, a PhD graduate from the Faculty of Education and an instructional designer at the Ontario College of Art & Design University.

“It was really important to me to give back to the Western University community since I had such an enriching experience during my master’s and my PhD,” said Tran. “I am also aware that students need one-on-one support the most during this unprecedented time.”

Seewald and Tran worked together twice a week for five weeks on her shark project. Quevillon said virtual tutoring gave Gabby a sense of purpose and it channelled her passion for sharks into something tangible. In the end, all the virtual tutoring work paid off because Gabby presented her shark project during her last virtual school class.

“This was incredibly empowering for her,” said Quevillon. “She showed the website and Annie also recorded her presenting the project, so she was able to play the recording. We have also been able to send the website link to her CCH teachers, and all of her friends and family - it's been a very positive experience.”

Tran also credits Seewald’s family for the virtual tutoring success. Their support helped Tran plan teaching and learning activities that weren’t constrained by a time limit, which made her confident that learning goals would be achieved. Also, Seewald and Tran connected when they first met, which made it easier to teach – and to learn online.

As part of virtual tutoring, Tran assessed technology – such as Google sites, Google classroom, YouTube and online public libraries – to see what worked with Gabby’s learning style. Her goal was to provide opportunities for Gabby to build upon her strengths, allowing her to thrive using different ways of communication. They used pictures, videos and text as part of lessons.

“Gabby was fantastic. Her technological skills, enthusiasm, and willingness to try new things allowed me to engage in different creative lessons and ideas. It was an absolute joy to work with her,” said Tran.

Similarly, Quevillon also gave high marks to Tran for her virtual tutoring skills, calling her a “a phenomenal tutor.”

“She was passionate, knowledgeable, fun, creative, flexible, patient and excellent to communicate with.”

The virtual tutoring service has since wrapped up. Teacher candidates, occasional teachers from the Thames Valley District School Board, retired teachers, undergraduate and graduate students as well as faculty and staff participated as tutors. As part of the service, the tutor and family work together to formulate a plan, which included a learning schedule, format for instruction, content to be learned and the scheduling of online meetings between students and tutors.